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SA’s fickle foreign policy means it has no principled approach towards global crises

SA’s fickle foreign policy means it has no principled approach towards global crises
From left: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor. (Photos: Gallo Images / EPA-EFE)

Why has South Africa applied one standard to Russia and another to Israel? To take it a step further, why is South Africa withdrawing diplomats from Israel but working hard to strengthen relations with Iran?

Monday, 6 November was a busy day for South African diplomacy as it sought to find its footing following a disastrous year of alignment with Russia and flirtation with Iran.

The two events of significance which occurred were the meeting between the international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, and her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Pretoria, and the decision to recall South Africa’s diplomats from Israel.

The meeting with Kuleba follows a fractious year of entanglement with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, including a serial refusal to condemn the invasion of Ukraine in the United Nations and the scandal surrounding the docking of the Russian arms carrier, Lady R, by moonlight at the Simon’s Town Naval Base.

Ramaphosa went so far as to say that not allowing Putin to attend the BRICS Summit in South Africa this August would be “a declaration of war”. When it became clear that he would lose his court bid to get Putin into the country, he changed tack and persuaded Putin to attend the summit virtually.

As it turns out, the BRICS Summit pretty much followed the Putin playbook, proposing to admit Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Argentina to the group. Putin, speaking virtually, was moved to say: “I would like to note, as it turned out this was challenging work and President Ramaphosa showed unique diplomatic mastery as we negotiated all the positions including when it comes to BRICS expansion.”

With talks with the US over the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) subsequently under way and US senators and congressmen starting to ask for South Africa’s exclusion, Pandor’s meeting with Kuleba sent a signal that South Africa was, in fact, pivoting back to neutrality.

“We are one of the few countries around the regions of the world that are able to speak to both Ukraine, as well as Russia,” Pandor said after the meeting

She noted “that Ukraine then, as part of the Soviet Union, provided to the freedom struggle”, a significant editing of the narrative that South Africa was closer to Russia because of its assistance to the exiled ANC.

She went so far as to say that she hoped to “use this bilateral relationship to build a greater African partnership”.

A cynic might observe that it would be in Russia’s interests to have a loyal friend like Ramaphosa become a key negotiator in the conflict.

And, it is apparent that most South Africans condemn Russia’s aggression and that continued support for the Kremlin will not play well in next year’s election.

Be that as it may, the optics are much better for South Africa as it projects itself as a neutral party that can talk to all sides.

Double standards

This brings us to the second event of diplomatic significance on Monday. South Africa announced it was withdrawing its diplomats from Israel over its pursuit of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the mounting civilian casualties.

The minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, announced: “The South African government has decided to withdraw all its diplomats in Tel Aviv for consultation.”

Remarking on this decision, Pandor said: “We need to have this engagement with our officials because we are extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territory and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment.”

It is, of course, well documented that Russia has committed grotesque war crimes against civilians in Ukraine. Children have been killed in missile strikes and even kidnapped and taken to Russia for adoption and indoctrination.

No such condemnation or withdrawal of diplomats has occurred when it comes to Russia, raising the question of whether South Africa is serious about positioning itself as an interlocutor or just making up foreign policy as it goes along, pleasing this or that international or domestic constituency, pimping any principles in the process

Why was one standard applied to Russia and another to Israel?

To take it a step further, why was South Africa withdrawing diplomats from Israel, but working hard to strengthen relations with Iran?

Two weeks before she met Kuleba, Pandor herself visited Iran, a known sponsor of Hamas which had days before committed the wholesale murder of more than 1,400 people in southern Israel in a terror attack designed to derail regional peace and halt the thawing of relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

In Tehran, she met Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, who expressed his appreciation for South Africa’s condemnation of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks. He was also most pleased that South Africa had opposed Israel joining the African Union as an observer and was keen on “closer economic ties”.

Raisi is to be accorded a state visit to South Africa in 2024.

South Africa’s Iranian expedition followed a phone call between Pandor and the chairperson of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. After coming under severe criticism over the call, she claimed that South Africa aimed to play a “mediatory role” in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Like Moscow, it is likely that Hamas would prefer Pretoria’s mediation services.

“I spoke to that gentleman Mr Haniyeh. I did not express any support for the atrocious action that had occurred on the 7th of October,” she said.

There is now talk that South Africa is unhappy with the statements of Israel’s ambassador to Pretoria, Eliav Belotserkovsky. Apparently, ambassadors are to either agree with South Africa or get out, a curious stance for a country which is trying to present itself as non-aligned and a neutral mediator.

It is uncertain when the West, grudgingly, understands that with South Africa, “She is just not that into you.” Until then it seems hapless in reading — or misreading — SA’s diplomatic behaviour. 

What is clear is that South Africa has no principled approach towards these global conflicts. It professes to want to mediate, but it picks and chooses when and which of its principles apply. It is a matter of time before another indiscretion undermines the spin doctoring. DM 

Ray Hartley and Greg Mills are with The Brenthurst Foundation


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nic SA says:

    Same applies to “the West” and in fact the authors of this piece.

    You wrote numerous op-eds (rightfully) criticizing the SA govt. approach to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and your foundation, the Brenthurst Foundation, even went so far as to sponsor John Steenhuisen of the DA to fly to Ukraine on a much derided “fact-finding” mission.

    At the same time, you wrote a piece insisting that the SA govt. lacks the moral standing to even take a position on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Why the double standard? Is it only acceptable for SA to take sides in a conflict if it conforms with your views?

    SA has in fact taken the morally correct position on Israel-Palestine, but you are completely incapable of acknowledging this because in your view SA should just get in line with “the West” i.e. the United States on foreign policy.

    I shudder to think what will happen if the DA ever comes into power nationally and DIRCO becomes the Brenthurst Foundation Department of Foreign Affairs. There needs to be a lot more clarity on directors of partisan political think tanks writing op-eds while maintaining uncomfortably close relationships with certain political parties.

    • Ben Harper says:


    • Pet Bug says:

      So many questions about this comment.
      But let’s just take the issue of morality that this comment raises.

      SA, read ANC, is openly supporting Russia and Hamas because of their ideological compass. Ideology has nothing to do with values and principles.
      The authors of this article rightly raise the contradictions in SA foreign policies where morality certainly is not considered at all.
      How could it considering just a few issues:
      Accept two-state solution: Israel yes – Hamas no
      Issue warnings of attacks or missile strikes: Israel yes- Hamas certainly no
      Ethnic cleansing: Israel no – Arabs yes (e.g. Israeli Arab population 21%, Syria 0%)

      The commentator as the ANC, have fallen down the rabbit hole of willful ignorance and identity politics where values can’t have a place. Israel is denied the right to defend itself because at the bottom of that rabbit hole lies a very disturbing truth.
      This is made clear by reading the Constitutions of Israel and that of Hamas Palestine, and their glaring difference in values and principles – every pro-Palestinian take a deep breath:
      Israel: … Israel will promote peaceful coexistence with all its neighbours and foster the well-being of all who live in the region.
      Hamas: … Israel will only exist as long as there is no Intifada (shaking off) against Israel. Israel must cease to exist.

      I am hoping that after the next election, NicSA doesn’t shudder with an entirely new principles and interest-based South African foreign policy.

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        Netanyahu has never accepted a two state solution. He opposed the Oslo agreements and explicitly says this in election campaigns and speeches. He believes in the expulsion of Palestinians from both Israhell and what is meant to be the area of the Palestinian state as stated in the 1947 UN Security Council resolution.

        • Pet Bug says:

          The Jewish acceptance, and Especially the far right parties of the two-state idea declined after Palestinian Arabs would only agree to the Oslo version (version something like number 20 with always Israel agreement) without acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. And then started a number of intifadas after which the Jews thought bugger this.
          This shows that Israel has always been willing to find a solution- not the Arabs.

          • Max Ozinsky says:

            The PLO recognized Israel in the process. It did not get them far as the negotiations fell apart largely because the Israeli government of the time was out manouvred by Netanyahu and his genocidal ilk. That was 20 years ago and Hamas is stronger than ever. Clever strategy by the Zionists.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      Mills is linked to the UK military and was an advisor to the Nato commander in Afghanistan. His advice led to the complete military and political defeat and failure of the Nato mission and their panicked withdrawal. This is the kind of advice he has been giving Ukraine and he thinks we should take him seriously.
      Hartley is hired pen in the pay of the Oppenheimers (Brenthurst Foundation), with a long history of trying to subvert our democracy to their ends.
      Given their track record, listening to their advice can only lead to a weakening of SA’s international position and us becoming a puppet of Nato, like Ukraine. Not even the Ukrainians listen to them anymore as seen by the visit of the their foreign minister to Tshwane last week.

      • Pet Bug says:

        Good lord.
        Where to start?
        Frankly, SAs international position is as a lap dog to authoritarian, illiberal restrictive dictatorships. Now with 30% extra punch by adding Iranian fanatical theology to the mix.
        And you are worried about NATO?
        And you think the Ukrainian minister was here to tell Pandor how much they hate NATO?! What planet are you on?

        • Max Ozinsky says:

          Actually he was here pleading for South Africa’s intervention.

          • Johan Buys says:

            Max, that (SA’s intervention) is the part where you lost all credibility.

            We have no global standing at all

          • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

            Your ANC friends have already destroyed one country, ours. Heaven forbid they are allowed to get involved with another.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Your ANC heroes are destroying South Africa – for everyone.

      The rest is just noise.

  • Ben Harper says:

    It’s simple really, the anc are still a terrorist organisation and align themselves with likeminded terrorists and brutal dictators, they strive to emulate them

    • Zamfoot 1 1 says:

      If the simple fact that russia supported the ANC in the struggle is reason for their stance 0n the Russia/Ukraine conflict, is anyone supprised by their position towards Israel in their conflict with Hamas?

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        South Africa’s position on conflicts is based on non-alignment, a concept that most white South Africans cannot understand because they are still suffering the affects of indoctrination by the apartheid ideas. Try reading about international relations since 1945 to get an undestanding of this. We are no longer a colony.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          “most white South Africans cannot understand because they are still suffering the affects of indoctrination by the apartheid ideas. ”
          Opinion, generalisation and oversimplification presented as fact. Like so many narratives I see.

          Our world is driven by the “answer in 100 character” idiots.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Oversimplified conjecture masquerading as fact.

        • Pet Bug says:

          Robert Habeck, the German vice-chancellor and a former leader of the Greens Party, makes it clear how, despite the `’heated muddle” of the present debate, the core morality is unambiguous.
          The “both sides” argument is misleading, says Habeck. While Israel “must of course abide by international law and international standards”, it’s telling that nobody frames such expectations of Hamas —“a murderous terrorist group fighting for the annihilation of the state of Israel and the death of all Jews”.
          “Those who … hope for peace, who believe in the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own … must now differentiate. And differentiating means to acknowledge that the murderous acts of Hamas are intended to prevent peace.”

      • Michael Thomlinson says:

        Simple facts: the ANC gets financial and business support from Putin’s Russia and perhaps from Iran as well, as they look for global friends and Iran supprts HAMAS. But they get no financial support form Israel. Easy for the ANC comrades to choose – moral principals or money. Geuss which one they pick?

  • Andre ZAAIMAN says:

    TWEET NETANYAHU (verified):

    28 December 2022: 11h59 – NETANYAHU Tweeted in Hebrew

    These are the basic lines of the national government headed by me:
    The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel – in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria.

    אלה קווי היסוד של הממשלה הלאומית בראשותי:
    לעם היהודי זכות בלעדית ובלתי ניתנת לערעור על כל מרחבי ארץ ישראל. הממשלה תקדם ותפתח את ההתיישבות בכל חלקי ארץ ישראל – בגליל, בנגב, בגולן, ביהודה ובשומרון.

    In other words he advocates ethnic cleansing of non-Jews. The solution is simple: let the 5,9 million Palestinian Refugees illegally kept in Refugee Camps by apartheid-Israel, return and establish a democracy – not an apartheid regime – as Palestine used to be a place of diversity where Muslims, Christians, Jews and other ethnic religious communities lived in peace: until the 1947 Nakba committed by the Stern Gang, Irgun and Haganah which the BRITISH themselves called “terrorist organisations”…

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    In this vile anc, vile Cyril, vile Pandor, vile Dirco – one is dealing with the most hypocritical, immoral, tw0-faced and deceitful bunch of charlatans (being very kind here). Pandor spoke to the “gentleman” Haniyeh (more like an evil murderer who also lives in the lap of luxury whilst his “people are made to suffer the consequences) and didn’t express support for the atrocities and murder!!! How very polite of her! Reminds one of the very silent diplomacy, turning a blind eye and giving the green light to the odious Mugabe regime in the 1st stolen election – the rest is history. This revolting anc/government is an absolute disgrace to SA and its values!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Ozinsky – you are one of those Jews who despises his own. History is littered with such cases. Even IF Netanyahu didn’t accept the 2-state solution, many previous PMs did and they tried their very best to get Arafat, the PLO etc to come to the peace table. They didn’t as it is only their way or nothing. Israel gave up Gaza for peace and look what has happened. HAMAS took over and turned it into a nest of vipers. All the billions donated went into arms, tunnels etc instead of benefitting the population. Don’t be selective in what you write! As for Greg Mills & Ray Hartley – they are great, erudite and much-admired for their insight and telling it like it is. Keep up the great work!!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Ozinsky – perhaps you should look up what non-aligned means as you have zero clue about it. It means being NEUTRAL and not blindly and moronically siding with one side . In this case, also trashing all the values that you are supposed to hold dear which the despicable anc is most definitely not in their foreign policy.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      I suggest you read up about the Bandung conference, Non-Aligned Movement and the G77 to understand what it means in international politics. Switzerland is neutral, South Africa and the G77 are non-aligned.

      • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

        Unless by “non-aligned”, you mean our ANC c/overtly supports Russia and Hamas, you are abusing the term.

      • Roel Goris says:

        Ozinsky – please stop lecturing us about non-alignment. South Africa’s foreign policy under Ramaphosa and Pandor consists of being somewhat friendly towards “the West” as long as there is economic benefit to be gained (AGOA is a case in point), but blatantly “aligned” to any country, whether authoritarian, repressive or even supportive of terrorism, as long as they are against “Western hegemony”. The current BRICS membership list proves this beyond any doubt.

        Nelson Mandela’s promise in 1994 of a foreign policy centred on global democracy and human rights has well and truly been thrown out of the window.

        Mills and Hartley are spot-on : “South Africa has no principled approach towards these global conflicts. It professes to want to mediate, but it picks and chooses when and which of its principles apply.”

  • jcdville stormers says:

    They have absolutely no principles

  • Stefan Gottlieb says:

    At last an intelligent article outlying the dangerous path we are on with choosing Russia, Iran and Hamas over our western allies. Pandor is pandering to the woke ideology that all the oppressed a morally superior. The oppressed now seems to even include Russia, and the moral superiority extends to the most heinous terror OTTs group since ISIS.

    • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

      There are hypocrites and uber hypocrites, Ozinsky, Pandor and the rest of the ANC obviously missed the DM lead stories 8 & 9 Nov. highlighted the plight of Darfur and the Sudan. One headline read: “Three Million kids have been forced to flee their homes, the LARGEST displaced population on children in the world”
      But of course; Black Lives Don’t Matter!

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        South Africa was very involved in bringing peace to Sudan and the independence of South Sudan. However the US, led by the Trump family pushed the Abraham Accords on Sudan, by forcing the Sudanese to recognize Israel in exchange for dropping sanctions. This direct interference in the internal affairs of Sudan has contributed to civil war. Darfur is rich in oil and this is honey to the US monopolies, lay behind the destabilisation.

  • F B says:

    A liberation movement will set aside moral and principal considerations in order to attain liberty for its, and only its, people. When such movement becomes a government, that acquired lack of morality and principals will not only be part of their governing, but also part of the narrative of its defenders.

  • Vas K says:

    Why so many futile comments on this subject? The SA government in its current form could not arrange a p..s up in a brewery. It is a joke locally as well as internationally. The well meaning words and advice will fall on IQ deficient deaf ears at best, criminal ones at worst. Until there is a change. No mafia has ever reform itself, how can we even dream that the ANC government would?

  • dexter m says:

    I would have given more credit to the authors if had not seen same arguments listed against SA , around the western media to all that are critical to Israeli actions. To get context on Israeli actions . Read Israeli authors Ilan Pappe and Miko Peled

  • Johan Buys says:

    Why on earth do we always irritate everybody?

    Just stick to our lane as an inconsequential nation and express our dismay at the harm caused to innocent ordinary people of both sides. Short and simple, not going to ruffle feathers and all those big people we REALLY NEED will remain gruntled with us.

    I’m not even sure how the ANC cadres make money from this diplomacy, which would have been the starting point of figuring motive

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This immoral article by Hartley and Mills is premised on a number of false assumptions that include the fallacy that the criminal US administration is a paragon of virtue with its foreign policy that consorts with criminals from Saudi Arabia to the thugs in Egypt who murdered a democratically elected President whom they had imprisoned. Saudi Arabia cut an American journalist into pieces and that has been verified. The two are not saying anything about the Western countries who consort with these criminals including the and have a temerity to tell us as an African state who to associate with and that smacks of racism on their part, they have to be told! They have hardly raised a finger about the knee on the necks of the African and Muslim Americans by the administration and its police and let alone seizing the land of American Indians by the US administration or mining in their holy lands. The West has never been the standard bearer of international morality and values as they have shred the UN Charter into pieces several times and ignored international law. The withdrawal by Trump from the JCPOA is not our jacket but that of the US and Iran has done nothing to us. It is very phallic that the two point to the support of Hamas by Iran not the support of Israel by the US for the murder of Palestinians and unprovoked attacks on Iran and Syria. South Africa will choose who it relates to guided by the its national interests as well as the UN Charter no the two authors.

    • Denise Smit says:

      This is not worth commenting on – One Saudi Arab journalist’s life and necks held by knees is worth 1400 Israelis shop to pieces, beheaded, burned alive, shot, raped, knifed to death and 240 taken hostage. Denise Smit

    • Denise Smit says:

      Because they are Jews. Denise Smit

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Ooh look, its Epic FFail 🙂

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      Your comment asks me questions like: What is your concern? Who do you want to convince? Why does it make you angry when journalists in a South African media criticize the government? Would it be okay with you if all media were on the same page as Mr. Iqbal Surve’s? Would you like to have the same conditions here as in China, Russia or Iran? Have you never considered that you might be wrong and others might be right, that your sources might be one-sided or wrong? Are you bothered by reading something that doesn’t match your own preconceived ideas? When I read comments in your style, I often ask myself, what kind of people are behind them, what drives them to express themselves in such a way?

  • Hilary Morris says:

    There is, it seems, no foreign policy at all. It’s just a case of which foot to insert into the mouth on each occasion. We lurch from disaster to disaster and the thought of South Africa being a mediator on the international stage is laughable – or would be were it not so ludicrous. This ANC is nothing more than an embarrassment. The only constant is an obdurate refusal to acknowledge reality.

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